GOP Lawmakers Demand DHS Release Disinformation Board Documents

GOP Lawmakers Demand DHS Release Disinformation Board Documents
Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) looks on during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on voting rights on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 20, 2021. (Evelyn Kockstein/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
Naveen Athrappully

A group of Republican lawmakers has written a letter to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, demanding the immediate release all relevant documents related to the currently paused Disinformation Governance Board.

The letter, sent on May 23, was signed by Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and five other senators. Mayorkas had “promised under oath” to make the records of the Disinformation Board available, the letter stated.

On May 4 when Mayorkas testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee about the creation of the new board, he promised to produce all records of the board to the committee unless there is a legal prohibition against doing so.

However, “our offices still have not received any of these documents,“ the letter said. ”We are therefore writing to demand immediate access to all records and communications related to the Disinformation Governance Board.”

Stating that they were pleased about DHS’s decision to shut down the board in response to concerns they had raised, Republican senators insisted that such a “mistake” should not be repeated.

GOP lawmakers demanded the DHS be transparent about its decision-making process to understand why it ever thought that creating a disinformation board “would be a good idea.”

The letter asked the DHS to submit recorded or written communication related to the board’s formation, minutes from any meeting during the formation of the board, a legal review to determine whether the board’s activities would be authorized according to the American constitution, any communication or record about individuals who would serve on the board, communications related to the appointment of the board’s executive director, and communications with the White House related to the board’s formation and appointment of officials.

In addition, any document that has ties with the disinformation board but has not been included in the above list has also been requested.

Mayorkas’s announcing the creation of the disinformation board on April 27 triggered strong backlash as many citizens raised concerns that the division would become a tool for government censorship, comparing it to the “Ministry of Truth” from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.
Hawley sent a letter to Mayorkas on April 28 saying that the disinformation board is “certainly unconstitutional,” adding that the “sole purpose of this new Disinformation Governance Board will be to marshal the power of the federal government to censor conservative and dissenting speech.”

In a response to the backlash, the disinformation board was paused and a panel was created to review it. Nina Jankowicz, who was tapped to lead the board, resigned shortly after her appointment.

Criticism of the disinformation board has not only come from Republicans, but also civil liberties and human rights groups, Jameel Jaffer, director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, pointed out in a May 18 tweet.

“There were very good reasons to question and criticize the Biden admin’s initiative. It is not true that all of the critics were right-wing, or disinfo-mongerers, or operating in bad faith,” he said.